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"I don't know the specifics," replied Buzhardt. "They pick up
communications stuff, they don't actually tap."
"Anything the NSA did is totally defensible," Nixon instinctively shot
back.
"I think it's defensible," said Buzhardt, "but I think that they move
into a broader category with respect to domestic affairs."
Nixon was again confused. "Right, meaning, picking up by”what do
you mean, electronic surveillance?"
"Targeting”yes sir”targeting U.S. citizens' conversations that were
on international circuits," explained Buzhardt.
"Doing so because of their concern about their being involved in
violence?" Nixon asked.
"Yes, sir," agreed Buzhardt.
Not only had Nixon forgotten signing the document, he had also
forgotten canceling it five days later. But the Defense Intelligence Agency
had earlier reminded Buzhardt of the fact.
"DIA says that”thinks it was terminated?" asked Nixon.
"They think it was terminated," said Buzhardt. "And they told me
independently from Huston that they think the approval was recalled,
and that's what Huston said. Now we're going to check this thoroughly
with NSA, and the reason it's important is because if you remember, they
[NSA] were the most aggressive group to go forward."
"NSA," said Nixon.
Buzhardt agreed, "NSA."
"NSA probably did something," added Nixon, finally catching on. "The
electronic work."


362
They also began discussing NSA's long battle with the FBI over
embassy break-ins in Washington. Tordella had long pressured Hoover to
send his black-bag specialists into various embassies in Washington in
order to steal codes and bug cipher machines. This was far less time-
consuming than attempting to break the codes at NSA using computers,
a method known as brute force. For many years Hoover had approved
such operations, but in 1967, worried about the scandal that might
result if one of his teams was discovered, he stopped the practice.
In an effort to force Hoover to begin cooperating again, Gayler met
with him and Attorney General John Mitchell on March 29, 1971. NSA,
he said, was "most desirous" of having the black-bag coverage resumed.
Hoover erupted, saying he "was not at all enthusiastic" about such an
extension of operations, in view of the hazards to the FBI. Despite the
meeting, the feud continued and it was only after L. Patrick Gray took
over as acting FBI director, following Hoover's death on May 2, 1972, that
the Bureau once again began embassy break-ins on behalf of NSA.
During the May 1973 Oval Office meeting with Buzhardt, Nixon
brought up the embassy black-bag jobs, adding them to his growing list
of problems that might surface as a result of Dean's defection.
"They never quite got a handle on it until Pat Gray was appointed,"
said Buzhardt.
"Shit," exclaimed Nixon.
"Pat went out to visit NSA, and took four of his assistants with him,
and he told Lou Tordella, 'I understand we used to do things with you
that were very helpful.' Pat was putting back together the assets."
"[Who] told you this?" asked Nixon.
"Tordella told me this," said Buzhardt.
Nixon later made a cryptic remark to his top aide, H. R. Haldeman,
that seems to indicate that black-bag jobs at the embassies of India and
Pakistan may have led to the breaking of their ciphers.
"In fact, the India-Pakistan one," said Nixon, "that's the way it was
broken. . . . Although that's one we've got to bury forever."
Nixon's meeting with Buzhardt went late into the night and then
continued the next morning. The two were worried not just about the
documents but also about whether NSA might have secretly recorded any
of its officials' conversations with White House officials concerning the
targeting of Americans and the black-bag jobs.
"I don't know," said Buzhardt. "I wouldn't be surprised if they [NSA]
tape the conversations going in and out of there. I don't think they would
admit it."



363
"No, they shouldn't," said Nixon, apparently supporting NSA's secret
taping of all calls to and from the agency.
"Even to me," replied Buzhardt. "But I had the definite impression."
"They're a (starry-eyed?) bunch," said Nixon. (The parenthesis is in the
original.)
Buzhardt added, "There are (75,000?) people there." (Parenthesis in
original.)
"I think Hoover taped all his conversations," said Nixon.
During his May 16 and 17, 1975, discussion with Nixon, Buzhardt
also brought up another of NSA's enormously secret and illegal
operations, one codenamed Shamrock. It involved an agreement whereby
the major U.S. telegraph companies, such as Western Union, secretly
turned over to NSA, every day, copies of all messages sent to or from the
United States. (Indeed, by the 1970s, NSA had developed a watch list
consisting of the names of more than 600 American citizens. These
names had been placed in NSA's computers and any communications
containing one of those names”such as the telegrams obtained through
Shamrock”would be kicked out, analyzed, and sent to whoever in the
federal government wanted the information thus obtained.) "Well, Mr.
President," Buzhardt said, "the way the collection operation works”on
some in and out line, this foreign collection”what some of the
communication companies here use to pick those communications up,
that go to the foreign country and back."
Nixon had little interest in this, because it did not directly relate to his
Watergate problems. "But at least that's one Watergate story that's”"
Buzhardt completed the sentence. "That's going to be a dud," he said.
"NSA participation in anything domestic”they define it as foreign
politics."
Luckily for NSA, Buzhardt and Nixon said no more about Shamrock.
But in 1975, two years after Nixon resigned, another investigation began
picking up clues to the operation. This time it was a probe by Idaho's
Senator Frank Church into possible illegal actions by the U.S.
intelligence community.
One of the investigators assigned to the committee was L. Britt
Snider, a thirty-year-old lawyer. "I was given the task," he said, "of trying
to crack what was perceived to be the most secretive of U.S. intelligence
agencies, the National Security Agency." His boss warned him, "They call
it 'No Such Agency.' "
Snider began by asking the Congressional Research Service for
everything on the public record that referred to NSA. "The CRS soon
supplied us with a one-paragraph description from the Government


364
Organization Manual," he said, "and a patently erroneous piece from
Rolling Stone magazine. ... In 1975, NSA was an agency that had never
before had an oversight relationship with Congress."
Early clues to NSA's darkest secrets came from comments in the final
report of an earlier investigation into the intelligence community, this
one led by then Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. "The first was a
reference to an office in New York that CIA had provided NSA for the
purpose of copying telegrams," said Snider. "The other disclosed that CIA
had asked NSA to monitor the communications of certain U.S. citizens
active in the antiwar movement. At last we had something to sink our
teeth into."
For weeks, NSA stonewalled all questions and requests for documents
on the two areas. Finally, the Church Committee sent formal
interrogatories to NSA, but the agency claimed that the subject was so
sensitive that only Church and John Tower, the ranking minority
member, would be permitted to be briefed. But then a story appeared in
the New York Times alleging that NSA had eavesdropped on the
international communications of U.S. citizens. "With the allegations now
a matter of public record," said Snider, "NSA wanted to explain its side of
the story." At NSA, Snider was briefed on Operation Shamrock, which
was so secret that only a few even within the agency knew of its
existence.
"Every day," the briefer told Snider, "a courier went up to New York on
the train and returned to Fort Meade with large reels of magnetic tape,
which were copies of the international telegrams sent from New York the
preceding day using the facilities of three telegraph companies. The tapes
would then be electronically processed for items of foreign intelligence
interest, typically telegrams sent by foreign establishments in the United
States or telegrams that appeared to be encrypted." Although telegrams
sent by U.S. citizens to foreign destinations were also present on the
tapes, the briefer added that "we're too busy just keeping up with the real
stuff" to look at them. The briefer then said the program had been
terminated by the secretary of defense the previous May, as the Church
Committee began looking into NSA. "I asked if the secretary had ended it
because he knew the Committee was on to it," said Snider. "Not really,"
the briefer said, "the program just wasn't producing very much of value."
But whenever Snider attempted to probe into the background of the
operation”how it started, who approved it, and how long it had been
going on”he was constantly told, "I don't know." The keeper of the
secrets, the briefer said, was Dr. Louis Tordella, who had retired in April
1974 as deputy director.
On a Sunday afternoon in September, Snider knocked on the front
door of Tordella's Kensington, Maryland, home. "Tordella was clearly



365
uncomfortable with the whole idea of confiding in someone like me," said
Snider. "He said he was not so worried about me as about the Committee
and what it might make of the 'facts.' He asked me what I knew about
Shamrock. I told him. He sighed a long sigh and then began a discourse
on Shamrock that lasted into the early evening."
Tordella told Snider about Shamrock's origins in the days following
World War II. "All the big international carriers were involved," Tordella
said, "but none of 'em ever got a nickel for what they did." The companies
had been assured at the time that President Harry S. Truman and
Attorney General Tom Clark were aware of the program and approved its
continuation. But Tordella knew of no further high-level approval until
he finally told Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger in 1973. "To his
knowledge," said Snider, "Schlesinger had been the only secretary to
have such a briefing," even though NSA reports to the secretary of
defense.
Like an inmate making a jailhouse confession, Tordella outlined the
illegal scheme. Snider later summarized it:


During the 1950s, paper tape had been the medium of choice.
Holes were punched in the paper tape and then scanned to created
an electronic transmission. Every day, an NSA courier would pick
up the reels of punched paper tape that were left over and take
them back to Fort Meade. In the early 1960s, the companies
switched to magnetic tape. While the companies were agreeable to
continuing the program, they wanted to retain the reels of
magnetic tape. This necessitated NSA's finding a place to make
copies of the magnetic tapes the companies were using. In 1966,
Tordella had personally sought assistance from the CIA to rent
office space in New York City so that NSA could duplicate the
magnetic tapes there. This lasted until 1975, Tordella said, when
CIA pulled out of the arrangement because of concerns raised by
its lawyers. NSA then arranged for its own office space in
Manhattan.
Tordella recalled that while many NSA employees were aware of
Shamrock, only one lower-level manager”who reported to him
directly”had had ongoing responsibility for the program over the
years. . . . Tordella recalled that years would sometimes go by
without his hearing anything about Shamrock. It just ran on, he
said, without a great deal of attention from anyone.
I asked if NSA used the take from Shamrock to spy on the
international communications of American citizens. Tordella
responded, "Not per se." NSA was not interested in these kinds of
communications as a rule, he said, but he said there were a few


366
cases where the names of American citizens had been used by NSA
to select out their international communications, and to the extent
this was done, the take from Shamrock would have been sorted in
accordance with these criteria. He noted that . . . the Nixon
administration had thought about turning over Shamrock to the
FBI, but the FBI did not want it.
When I asked if it was legal for NSA to read the telegrams of
American citizens, he replied, "You'll have to ask the lawyers."
I noted that I would have expected the companies themselves to
be concerned, and Tordella remarked that "the companies are what
worry me about this." He said that whatever they did, they did out
of patriotic reasons. They had presumed NSA wanted the tapes to
look for foreign intelligence. That was NSA's mission. If the
telegrams of American citizens were looked at, the companies had
no knowledge of it.
I countered with the observation that, by making the tapes
available to the government, the companies had to know they were
providing the wherewithal for the government to use them however
it wanted. They had to bear some responsibility.
The comment caused Tordella's temper to flare for the first time
during our interview. The companies were not responsible, he
reiterated, they were just doing what the government asked them
to do because they were assured it was important to national
security. If their role were exposed by the Committee, it would
subject them to embarrassment, if not lawsuits, and it would
discourage other companies from cooperating with U.S. intelligence
for years to come. I told him that the Committee had yet to
determine how the whole matter would be treated, including the
involvement of the companies. We parted amicably, but he clearly
had misgivings about how this would turn out. His distrust of
politicians was manifest.


Following Tordella's mea culpa, Snider began probing what the
companies knew and when they knew it. Only one former employee, from
RCA Global, had been on the job at the beginning of the program. "He
said the Army had come to him and asked for the company's
cooperation," said Snider, "and, by damn, that was enough for him." An
executive from ITT, on the other hand, "came to the deposition
surrounded by a phalanx of corporate lawyers who proceeded to object to
every question once I had gotten past the man's name and position."
Snider said, "I pointed out to them that this was the United States
Senate”not a court of law”and, if they wanted to object to the questions
I was asking I would have a senator come in and overrule every one of


367
their objections. They piped down after that."
When the committee's report was being drafted, Snider argued against
the public release of the names of the companies. But the committee's
chief counsel, Frederick A. O. Schwartz, disagreed. "The companies had a
duty to protect the privacy of their customers," he said; "they deserved to
be exposed. If the Committee did not do it, it would become the subject of
criticism itself." Pushed by Church, the committee voted to make its
report public”over NSA's vehement objections, and to the great
displeasure of its Republican members.
President Gerald Ford telephoned Church and other senators,
imploring them to reconsider. But Church was determined to go forward
and the next day, Lieutenant General Lew Allen, the NSA director, was

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